Written by: Ryan McPhee
The arts and culture industries remain largely at a standstill in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, affecting millions of workers in an already delicate ecosystem. The Broadway Community Project, from industry veterans Greg Schaffert, Tiffani Gavin, Situation Interactive, and Playbill, was developed to shed light on the myriad fields and roles that go into making the curtain rise.
In the Broadway Community Project series, we shine a spotlight on the faces you may not see on stage, but are nevertheless critical in creating and maintaining a theatre production. These are just some of the arts workers who have put their stamp on an industry that contributed over $14.7 billion to the New York economy in 2019 and $877 billion in value added nationally; these are just some of the arts workers in need of relief as theatres prepare to welcome back audiences.
Today, meet Isaac Q Grivett, a milliner and member of Theatrical Wardrobe Union IATSE Local 764. You can say Grivett wears a lot of hats, between constructing them in costume shops and tending to their upkeep at theatres during a show’s run. After graduating from Roundabout Theatre Company’s Theatrical Workforce Development Program, they began working on Broadway at the age of 19, racking up an impressive roster of credits (including Frozen, Beetlejuice, The Cher Show, and, most recently, Moulin Rouge!) up until the coronavirus shutdown. In the wake of the pandemic, Grivett lent their stitching expertise to the production of PPE as part of the Broadway Relief Project. Read on for more.
Name: Isaac Q Grivett
How did you get your start as a milliner?
I was in Roundabout Theatre Company’s Theatrical Workforce Development Program, a training initiative designed to lift young artists into technical theatre jobs. I “majored” in costumes/wardrobe and was placed at John Kristiansen’s costume shop as part of the program. From there I started applying to every Broadway show until I started getting jobs.
Did you have a mentor while developing your career? Tell us about them!
Part of my program was also getting a mentor from IATSE. Mine is Natalie Abreu, another wardrobe worker in Local 764. She is a dresser on The Phantom of the Opera and has been really helpful in giving advice on working in this industry and in life in general. She invited me to theatre and union events early in my career and also wrote one of my letters of recommendations that got me into the union.
What is a typical day like for you on the job?
There really is no “typical day” for me. Being such a specialized craft, I rarely get full-time jobs as a milliner. I split my time between multiple shows (repairing and upkeeping pieces), a costume shop (creating pieces), and taking other freelance costume and props making jobs. Most of the time I work during the day, getting to work as early as 8 AM so I can do all of my work before the actors come in for the show. I then go through each headpiece to see if it needs any repairs, alterations, or other touch-ups. After checking them all, I take all the pieces that need to be worked on and fix them up. Depending on the show, I might also work on shoes or help the stitcher when I finish the hats as well. Depending on what the shows I’m on need and what their schedule is, I may do this at two or three shows in a single day.
What’s your professional life like during the coronavirus pandemic?
I haven’t been able to do much relevant work during the pandemic, but early on I was a stitcher for the Broadway Relief Project through Open Jar Studios. It was really wonderful to be able to help out my city with my professional skills when we were having such a rough time. I also set up an Etsy shop to sell handmade face masks. This winter, I have also started school at BMCC studying Public Health. Working in theatre, and in particular in wardrobe, is a very intimate setting, and due to my chronic health conditions, I am put at risk for the coronavirus. I have always had an interest in public health, and the time away from work has allowed me to pursue this to hopefully be able to more effectively advocate for safer working conditions when we come back to the theatre.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the theatre community?
For me, the theatre community is so important to handle the difficulty that is working in this industry. It’s been years since I worked at only one show at any given time, and it’s always exciting to walk into a room and see a familiar face. Dealing with the schedule and the stresses is so much easier when we all work well together.